Nelson DeMille writes big, thick books filled with adventure, humor and great dialogue. I have always wondered why more of his books weren’t adapted for the big screen. Watching 1999’s film of his novel THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, I think it might have cursed future movies.
On the surface, the movie has a lot going for it.
John Travolta’s in fine form as Paul Brenner, an army investigator looking into the brutal murder of Elisabeth Campbell, an army psychologist and daughter of General Campbell, well played by James Cromwell. The deeper Brenner digs, the more sordid the list of suspects and events become.
Timothy Hutton, John Benjamin Hickey (Flags of Our Fathers) and Clarence Williams III (Mod Squad, Purple Rain) are all very good. James Woods has some amazing scenes with Travolta.
Screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man) writes dialogue as well as anyone in history and the Woods/Travolta exchanges are prime Goldman.
But a dark shadow looms over the film, keeping it from being great. The murder of Elisabeth is so heinous and so graphically depicted that it detracts from the storytelling.
Characters could have described it. A quick glimpse could have served up its horrors.
But Director Simon West lingers over the torture and murder, making it voyeuristic and lurid in its detail. I’ve never been a fan of West, his biggest hit “Con Air” wallowed in excess until it finally collapsed into an idiotic parody of itself. I felt dumber after watching it. After watching his take on DeMille’s novel, I feel slimy.
Poor Madeline Stowe is completely wasted in her role as Brenner’s fellow investigator.
If you cut this down into a short film with Travolta and Woods going toe-to-toe, I’d be all in for repeat viewings. But saddled with graphic sexual violence that pulls the film and the viewer into the mud, the cleverer parts of the story’s mystery are soon forgotten.
THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER deserved better, so does DeMille and so do we.
I’ll give it a C-.